How many times have you heard your daughter singing along to a popular song on the radio and innocently belting out the kind of lyrics that would otherwise get her sent to her room? In the moment, you believe (desperately want to believe!) that she is unaware of the innuendo and unaffected by its explicit content. But messages embedded in song lyrics, along with video imagery, and advertising influence do have an impact on the ways girls think about themselves and their relationships with others. Without having to resort to a full-on pop music ban or complete shunning of media, you can help your daughters-and other young girls-become aware of media messages that violate values and degrade girls:
The next time your daughter is singing along to a catchy tune with questionable lyrics, use the opportunity to ask her questions like:
• What do you like about his song?
• How do you feel when you listen to it?
• What is it about?
• Have you ever watched the music video for this song?
• Did the video storyline match the words?
• How did the video make you feel when you watched it?
• How were the actors/dancers in the video dressed?
Be sure to convey your genuine interest in her music and opinions rather than coming across as an interrogator. You will be walking a fine line between showing interest in her world and "judging" her taste in music. As long as you can resist the urge to lecture, there can be almost limitless potential for talking about pop music and videos of the day, from lead singers to their fashions, to the messages they are trying to convey, and so on. Let your daughter take the lead.
The goal of this conversation is not to condemn your daughter's taste in music and videos. Rather, asking her to evaluate the lyrics and video images can help her become a more informed consumer and better critical thinker when it comes to awareness of the media influences that surround her on a daily basis.
When young girls get in the habit of asking themselves questions about what they are hearing, seeing, dancing to day after day, and singing out loud, they develop a protective measure of insight and control over ubiquitous media messages -- rather than the other way around.
Models of Perfection
The next time you and your daughter are browsing magazines or watching entertainment news on TV, strike up a conversation about how popular advertisements and celebrity photos often bend the truth and trick consumer into seeing things that do not really exist.
Ready for the school year's first vocabulary pop quiz? Ask your daughter to define the term "airbrushing." Explain the concept with the emphasis that some media images use airbrushing to trick girls into believing that "perfection" exists. Explain that when girls take in these messages without questioning them, they can begin to feel badly about themselves, worrying that they don't measure up to impossible standards.
To illustrate, check out the "Dove Evolution" video, available on YouTube or by typing "Dove Campaign for Real Beauty" into an online search engine. This brief clip shows the transformation of an everyday-looking woman into a billboard-ready supermodel. It can be a great discussion tool for showing young girls how it takes an army of professionals to transform one person into "model-readiness." What's more, even with a whole team of hair and make-up artists, the model still needs digital alteration before her image is projected to the world.
"Dove Evolution" is a great visual reminder for kids that seeing should never be believing when it comes to the images in the media. The most important takeaway point of this film and mother-daughter discussion is to encourage your child to feel good about exactly who she is and not to compare herself to media images that are neither real nor attainable (without a team of professionals and digital alteration.)
Clothing and Toys
Children and tweens are the target market for airbrushed images and sexualized products of all kinds, everyday. As way to create awareness in your impressionable youngster, set aside some time with your daughter to browse through store catalogs or walk through toy store aisles. Encourage her to take note of the types of outfits and toys that are available for kids her age. Ask her to share her thoughts on which items represent "real" girls engaged in everyday activities vs. which show girls in age-inappropriate outfits, wearing adult make-up, or doing things you couldn't imagine a girl your child's age doing. Tally the number of items that represent "real" girls versus those that represent unrealistic products for kids her age. How do the numbers compare? What does this tell her?
When your daughter has this interactive experience of seeing how kid-friendly "kid-products" actually are, she gains practice in becoming an engaged, critical thinker. What's more, she takes important steps to being an empowered consumer who can resist the pressures of unrealistic imagery.
The ideas included in this article are excerpted from Signe's upcoming book, Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying, scheduled for publication in November 2011.